On Friday, I was feeling both tired and wired. I had not slept well in a week. The whole day long I carried on with the usual business convinced that this was not the day birth would occur. I had an outing with the kids in the morning. Then for lunch I made myself some black bean tacos spiked with a healthy dose of habanero hot sauce hoping for some sympathetic contractions. The hot sauce did spur some contractions, but not long after lunch I dozed on the sofa and so did the contractions. Later in the afternoon, the kids and my best friend, Anne, and I took a trip to the grocery store to stock the pantry. I wasn’t feeling great. I was feeling heavy, uncomfortable and like contractions might start, but we completed the shopping. I made some dinner and while it was simmering, my friend who is visiting to help with the new baby, insisted Andrew and I go have time to be alone. So we went to be “alone” together, followed by a healthy dinner of split pea soup, grill cheese sandwiches and delicious oat muffins. Immediately following dinner, true labor began.
At first we were all excited, which faded into ennui. The three of us, Anne, Andrew and I watched a movie. But, I started to nod off during the movie, so when I heard my son cry upstairs I jumped up to go check on him and after I settled his fears, I simply tip-toed off to bed without telling anyone. An hour or so later my husband came to check on me and I was snoozing. As I recall, I don’t think I went back to sleep but simply laid there. The contractions were a little more intense. After a while I got up thinking I could distract myself with some more T.V. and perhaps nod off again. It was 1:00 a.m. and my husband went to bed.
From the beginning, this labor was different. My previous labor started with mildly uncomfortable, but strong tightening contractions, which did not seem difficult to endure until I hit 8 cm. This time the contractions were painful cramping from the beginning of labor. I told my husband this was going to be a lot more painful if this is how it is beginning. I also felt more pressure toward the rear, which I hoped meant she was moving down. I did some squatting to help move things along.
After I moved back downstairs, I lay down, but the contractions would not let me get comfortable, then I remembered the cloth diapers were still hanging on the clothesline. I went to take them off the line. It was very still and peaceful outside. It was too quiet. There was a toad sitting on the patio. I thought that was unusual. I went back inside and did a few more small chores. Then looked for something on T.V. to distract me from labor. There was not really anything good to watch and labor was picking up.
As I labored, I leaned over every piece of furniture, pushed up against the wall, rocking and breathing deep breaths. While I could, I would pray. It occurred to me around 4:00 a.m. to turn the T.V. to EWTN in hopes they were praying the rosary. This was a little after active labor began. It was a biography of Padre Pio. It was not exactly what I was looking for, but as I leaned over the ottoman rocking and breathing, it was a good distraction. You would think that listening to a story of someone who had suffered far more than I, with great love in communion with Christ’s sufferings would inspire me, alas it did not (I guess because I really wanted to pray, but couldn’t keep focused during contractions). It merely served as a distraction.
The hours seemed to pass quickly. I told my husband when he went to bed that we would probably be going to the hospital around 6:00 a.m. I was right. At 5:30 a.m. I decided to try a bath to soothe some of the pain. At first it seemed to do nothing, but the longer I sat, the more it seemed easier to breathe through the contractions. I started to nod off again in between contractions, which is funny because at this point they were three minutes apart. So I had three minute naps for about a half hour. Then I woke Andrew, calling from the bath. “Andrew, Andrew, go let the cat in. It’s morning and I don’t want him to be left out all day. Oh and I think it’s time to go to the hospital, so you really need to wake up.” Panic, on my husband’s behalf. “No, it’s okay. Get dressed. Do what you need to do. I am just saying we should go soon.”
Andrew called the midwife and let her know that we were going in. We got checked in and I was at 7 cm. Same as what I was at when I came in for Kristiana’s birth. I get a gold star for coming in at 7 cm. We were gonna have some birthin’ this mornin’. Once in the delivery room I got down to business—still breathing and rocking and bracing myself on all different parts of the nifty delivery bed. The nurses all commented that I looked like a pro with my breathing. This made me feel very good about myself. To me, there did not seem another way to endure the contractions but to breathe. I feed off of positive reinforcement. It gave me energy just hearing their lauds. Of course, I wondered if they bolster all the mommies. I mean of course they do. But, I still like to think I was doing something right and I get a gold star for this too.
Early labor through active labor was actually quite beautiful for me. They say you should focus your mind elsewhere during contractions. So as I had with Kristiana’s labor, I focused in my mind on a smiling portrait of Alexander from when he was 18 months old. There is something about his smile in that picture that totally relaxes me and takes me to another place. But, this time at the end of a contraction, after focusing on Alex’s smile it would fade into a beautiful fuscia rose image. I attribute this addition to the invocations of blessed Theotokos, which I made in between contractions.
Things were feeling intense and I was ready to try some pushing to move it along. I was already exhausted from being up all night, so it was time to sprint for the finish line. We weren’t quite ready but a little pushing might help that and I felt pretty good about pushing. I pushed on my own for a while Christy, our midwife, helped with things down below. Then she suggested breaking my water, which I had to think about through a few contractions, because I had heard that would make things more intense and I wanted to “take it easy” and “go with the flow.” But, after thinking about it through a few contractions I decided to go ahead. I did not want to try to push out a bag of water and baby and breaking it might help her slide on down.
After the water was broken things changed like it had in the bath. It seemed easier to breathe and push. What followed was more pushing in a squatting position. It seemed long and I got really tired. My head started to go to birthland—that zone where you are in another world almost like floating above yourself, looking in. I had read about this before, but I didn’t experience this with the other kids except for the brief transition period. Then Christy suggested another position. I was now to pull on a rope while pushing. I did this for a while and then lay back on the bed and wanted to give up. My body was not going to let me. It sort of forced me to keep trying, but I knew we weren’t getting anywhere. I could feel it.
I Give Up
Christy asked me to try to empty my bladder. I was willing to try. I made it to the bathroom with help. I was pouring sweat and tears and my body was really bearing down. My body really wanted to deliver the baby. I was in a lot of pain. But, I did not have it in me to push anymore. I felt like I was fighting my body. I asked if it were too late for an epidural, because I have given up. I was REALLY fighting pushing. Christy said it may not be too late, but she wanted to lay me on my side and try to push from there. I was yelling, no, at her. I was sobbing “I give up!” My husband and Christy tried to inspire me with a little spiritual incentive. But, I wasn’t having it. I thought, “No, not even that can get me through. I give up.” I already felt like a bad person for giving up when I so clearly could not. My thought was if I could relax via epidural, perhaps I would have enough strength to push again.
But, I just stood there in the bathroom, rocking while my body was bearing down and Christy and Andrew talking me through. Finally Andrew and Christy got tough on me. Andrew went into his, cut the crap voice he gets with me when I get all irrational, he said, “Renee, no, you don’t give up. Come on.” There is something about his tone and sincerity when he lectures me like this that can convince me of anything. Heavenly inspirations? No. “Cut the crap, Renee,” is apparently what I needed to hear. Then Christy sort of threatened me, “Renee, if you have given up that means we are going to have a c-section. Or I can get Dr. Becker in here with the forceps.” Well, I wasn’t going to do any of that, and I think she knew it.
“Okay, I am ready to go try that lying down position.” So we made it back to the bed and I received some instruction on how it was going to work. Lying down felt good. It felt like a big bear hug. It was the support I needed, because my arms, legs and back were so tired from all the work I had done already. I asked my husband to hold my leg and I gripped his other hand. A nurse reached over me to adjust something and gripped her hand too. People were talking to me and I am not sure what they said or if I replied. I was pushing again and this time I could feel things moving, so I kept pushing. The baby arrived screaming and pink. They threw her up on my chest and I rubbed her warm little body. I exclaimed, “Oh thank you, baby, for coming out!” Everyone in the room laughed. It was time to relax and enjoy this blessing.
Afterward Christy explained that Annie had come out the wrong direction with her forehead first instead of the crown of her head—or also known as sunny side up and military style—baby was stuck, but we got her out. The nurse said a lot of women cannot deliver a baby that way and end up with a c-section, and she pointed out that I did it without pain medication. Oh, another gold star for Renee. But, I really attribute getting this baby out to my midwife, because I was clueless and she just kept talking me through. My husband as cheer team was what got me through my giving up phase.
I gave myself a lot of gold stars there. And let’s be honest, I am the only one handing them out to me. In reality, women give birth in all sorts of situations. My labor to delivery was 16h30 and I was exhausted. But many of my friends have had a lot longer labors and a lot harder deliveries and my hat goes off to them. I cannot imagine labor for 24 hours or 36 hours. But women do and at the time, they have no choice but to endure. For me it seemed really hard in the end of this birth, but things could not have turned out better in the end. I am well and had no tearing. The baby arrived in good time and is perfect and normal.
I normally would not post such an unflattering picture, but I wanted to post my sweaty, matted hair picture, with my baby’s creased misshapen head (which looked normal within the hour) as my photo of victory. This is my triumph. This is me and Annie at the finish line.
All praise be to God.